The Soy Industry is Soaring The Buzz


Soyfood sales are soaring. In the past, soyfoods were viewed as products for vegetarians, hippies and nature lovers. That attitude has changed.

Veggie burgers made from soybeans can now be found in mainstream restaurant chains, and most grocery stories carry at least one or two different brands.

Until only a few years ago in North America, the main consumers of soyfoods were ethnic communities with a history of using these products. Gradually, the health benefits have become more widely known and health food stores began selling the products.

Today, soyfoods and soy beverages are sold in most grocery stores. They come in the form of tofu, cooking oils, baked goods and breakfast shakes. But even plastics, cleaning products and candles may contain soy.

"The soy sector is particularly interesting because of the low cost of growing the bean, and the new technologies developed to get the best of the beans' nutritional and functional properties," says Rowan Lalonde of ProSoya.

"Another interesting factor is the higher cost of many of soybeans' competitors on a planet where space to grow food is very limited."

The founder of ProSoya, Raj Gupta, wanted to provide an inexpensive source of nutrition for Third World countries. In these crowded countries, cow's milk is an extravagance the average person can no longer afford.

Gupta realized that to drink soymilk for nutrition, it had to taste, smell and feel good to the tongue. He developed the patented process of "airless cold grinding" literally in his basement.

This process produces the very best flavor with a limited amount of processing. Tofu, beverages, yogurt, ice creams and powders can then be produced from this liquid base.

A Healthy Choice

The health benefits of soyfoods are now widely publicized. Peter Golbitz is president of the Soyfoods Association of America. He says that soy protein food helps to maintain healthy cholesterol levels and reduce the incidence of many diseases. It can also be a complete source of nutrition.

"Luckily for us, American soyfood producers have been extremely creative over the past 15 years or so, and have been introducing an average of 200 new soyfood products a year into the marketplace," says Golbitz.

"They have learned how to produce soyfoods which are convenient to prepare, have a long shelf life, cater to North American tastes and meal preferences, and still carry a healthy nutritional profile," he adds.

Studies have found that soyfoods reduce the risks of cancer, heart disease, diabetes and osteoporosis, and may lessen the effects of menopause. Research has shown that residents of countries where soyfoods are regularly consumed are less likely to develop certain types of cancers. This includes breast, lung, colon, rectal, stomach and prostate cancer.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced that a diet that includes soy protein can reduce the risk of heart disease.

Nancy Chapman is the executive director of the Soyfood Association of North America. In her speech to the Third Annual Soyfoods Symposium, she said that one of the factors contributing to the increase in the demand for soyfoods is the aging baby boomers.

"This large group of consumers, now more interested in longevity and good health, continue to drive trends in the marketplace," Chapman says.

According to Nutrition Today, this generation believes that food is an important factor in achieving good health. The boomers are consuming more dietary supplements, organic foods and vegetarian foods.

Growing Demand

Fred Brandenburg is a member of a soybean growers' marketing board. He believes that there exists a demand in export markets for high-quality soybeans. He sees this trend as providing growers and suppliers with new opportunities in soybean production.

"There will be more specialization and contract production. Companies will contract with growers to produce a specific variety of soybeans for a specific end market at a premium price," he says.

Soybeans provide farmers with another option for growing. While for many years, corn and wheat were the two main crops produced, soybeans can now be a part of the crop rotation in many areas.

The soybean industry in the U.S. has experienced significant growth in recent years for a couple of reasons. Shelia Lingle works with the Indiana Soybean Board. "It is a very versatile crop that is in demand domestically, as well as internationally," she says.

"Plus, the American Soybean Association has several international offices promoting soybeans in other countries."

Future Outlook

"Soybean farmers create opportunities for profit through what is known as the soybean checkoff," says Mike Orso of the United Soybean Board.

"One-half of one percent of the price per bushel sold is deducted and used to build markets for soybeans here at home and abroad, develop new uses for soybeans, and to find ways to keep soybean production as efficient for soybean farmers as possible."

Those associated with the soyfoods industry are optimistic about the future. "With a planet producing more people on a limited land base, plants like soy, and the foods and products derived from it, are going to be a growing opportunity for employment and investment," says Lalonde.

As health benefits of soyfoods are publicized, it is expected that health-conscious baby boomers will increase the amount of soyfoods in their diet.

Also, it is much cheaper to feed people soy than to grow crops to feed farm animals. This is an important economic factor for the future of the soy industry and for the future of the world.

Links

Soyfoods Directory
Lists recipes, nutritional information and descriptions of soyfoods

American Soybean Association
Offers statistics, news articles and pictures

United Soybean Board
Provides health and nutritional information, recipes and food and health experts